'Freshest of the Fresh'

Tours of local farms give visitors a look at agriculture and a taste of foods produced on the properties
Dunbar Farms eggs are the main ingredient in this salad served during a July 24 tour of the Medford farm, hosted by Ashland Food Co-op.Jamie Lusch

Pledging a "purist" diet, Janelle Wilson and Robin Williams stopped to consider every addition to their grocery cart during last year's Eat Local Challenge.

In anticipation of this year's challenge, the Ashland couple shopped at the source: Medford's Dunbar Farms, which had wheat berries and flour for sale during a July 24 tour. The two — among 25 participants in the Ashland Food Co-op-sponsored event — got an inside view of the farm, along with a lunch of foods produced on site.

If you go

What: Tour of Blue Fox Farm, Rolling Hills Family Farm and Mama Terra Micro Creamery; includes charter-bus transportation and picnic lunch on the farm; hosted by Ashland Food Co-op. Cost is $35 for Co-op owners, $40 otherwise.

When and where: 8 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 21; depart from Ashland Food Co-op, 237 N. First St., Ashland.

For more information and to register: Call the Co-op at 541-482-2237 or see www.ashlandfood.coop. Sign up early; space is limited to 30 people. Bring sunscreen, hats and water bottles.

"Everything tasted amazing," says Wilson, 31. "This is the freshest of the fresh."

The Co-op plans a similar tour Aug. 21 at Medford's Rolling Hills Family Farm, Applegate's Blue Fox Farm and Williams' Mama Terra Micro Creamery. Included in the cost and itinerary is a picnic of roasted, seasonal vegetables from Blue Fox, Mama Terra goat cheese with local, artisan bread and shortcakes with Rolling Hills peaches.

"When we go on the tour, those peaches will be hanging ripe from the tree," says Mary Shaw, culinary educator at Ashland Food Co-op. "That really completes the circle to enjoy the food that came from the farm."

The Co-op started farm tours five years ago to acquaint customers with some of the store's suppliers. The first two forays were in the Roseburg area, which provides the store's pasture-raised beef and lamb, as well as certified-organic tomatoes and zucchini.

Three years ago, organizers decided to stick closer to home, visiting Central Point's Martin Family Ranch, which supplies the Co-op's free-range eggs, and Eagle Point's historic Butte Creek Mill.

Last year, two community gardens that benefit local food pantries, Historic Hanley Farm, Fry Family Farm, Whistling Duck Farm and two Applegate wineries were on the program. This year, the Co-op is expanding its role to catering the events with ingredients from the source. Shaw and Co-op volunteers prepared salads with Dunbar's wheat berries, vegetables and eggs while SunStone Artisan Bakery of Ashland provided bread baked with flour milled from Dunbar wheat.

"We had been walking through the wheat fields and threshing the wheat," says Wilson. "We learned so much in the few hours leading up to to lunch."

"The focus that has remained consistent is education," says Shaw.

Since discontinuing their century-old orchard operation several years ago, the family of Dunbar Carpenter diversified its agricultural activities to growing vegetables, grains, legumes; raising goats and poultry and; and farming the property with draft horses. Tour participants observed demonstrations with the horses and low-tech farming equipment before following the grain trail to Eagle Point's water-powered Butte Creek Mill.

Tour participant Daphne Clausen, 76, says she signed up to observe the historic mill's workings but was surprised to find Dunbar Farms so interesting.

"He just enthralled us," says the Mount Shasta, Calif., resident of farm manager David Mostue. "What he's trying to do is so fascinating and so exciting."

Carpenter's grandson, Mostue adopted a farming model of yesteryear to eliminate the property's dependence on outside resources while contributing in a more significant way to the community's need for food. Growing grains, the subject of larger regional study by Oregon State University Extension, is one way to establish a truly local foodshed.

Education about local farms continues during the fifth annual Eat Local Challenge, initiated by THRIVE, a nonprofit coalition of local businesses. The group's Rogue Flavor Farm Tour on Sept. 12 will visit Swallow Springs Farm, Bradford Family Farm and Pholia Farm in the Evans Valley. Cost is $20, $10 for children and includes lunch. See the website www.buylocalrogue.org for more information.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.



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